All Stories, General Fiction, Short Fiction

Chapter One: Sid by Wylie Strout

“Dog?  Cat?  Bus?  Worm?  Yes.  Melba, did you pick up the waste can?  No.  No, it was a dog on the corner?  I see.  What did the bus do?  Lose its license?  Why?  I thought it was a cat.  Okay.  No, you go ahead, I’ll stop by the hardware store.  Really.  The entire sidewalk is covered with them.  You walk out and you have to jump around like you have ants in your pants so you don’t squish them.  Okay.  See you then.”  

Smells.  Smells like earthworms.  Rain brings earthworms.  The smell of earthworms.  Don’t really know why, but I like it; the smell of earthworms.  A natural air freshener.

Melba will be home soon.  Time to walk down the hall; flip the laundry; and thaw out the leftovers.  Should prepare more.  Light a candle.  Clean the dishes.  Damn phone.  I see myself preparing everything.  Reality is I won’t move.  Melba will come over.  She will say hello.  She will clean the dishes, flip the laundry, heat the leftovers, pull a blind open here, and close a blind there.

Melba is polite.  So polite.  Then she will politely leave and Siena will do the weekend shift.  And I will watch.  I will think and I will be immobile.  I will dream Ella Fitzgerald, candlelight, and hot leftovers, but I will get ESPN, CNN, and late PBS.  I have several televisions.  My ladies switch the channels.  I leave them all on.  If I wish, I can flip them too.  Drowns out the running commentary in my head.  The life I lead only in my head.

No real dog.  No bus.  No wastebasket.  No hardware store.  Where will I go now?  Melba’s moving around the tubes.  Injecting something.  She goes from being a sixty-five-ish nurse from your worst nightmare to a maybe thirty-five-ish woman from my Barbados cabana.  “Sid, turn a bit.  Can’t you turn a bit? Melba asks.”  Then I hear, “Sid, looking sexy today.  Yes, every bit the man I met so many years ago.”  Naturally, we didn’t meet years ago.  One can imagine I like the meds increased on Melba’s shifts.  Adds to my overall wellbeing.  I can dream of sex with the meds.  Cock works with the meds.  At least, in my dreams, with the meds.  Otherwise I stay here.  Immobile.  Paralysis.  Some days I don’t believe it.  Some days I think they are all lying.  That I’m not paralyzed and if I only move my toe, my whole body will spring up, start running, and my life will come back to me.

Time keeps moving.  I cannot keep track of time.  Watches keep ticking.  My alarm goes off.  I guess it is set everyday.  Buzz.  Buzz.  Annoying buzz.  Swear its every hour.  Worst part about time; whole world runs on it.  Whole world judges days and nights; years and lives, with time.  I don’t want to believe in time.

Late nights.  Lots of late nights.  As a scientist, I researched ailments and looked for cures.  I built some of my meds from scratch.  I’m impressed with myself for doing this . . . at least until they are inside me.  Then I wonder if I did myself in.

Forgetting time.  Twenty years in a lazy boy with multiple tvs and make believe pets.  Planning now for my escape.  I’m gathering steam.  My arms are getting stronger.  Stopping meds.  Will deal with real Melba.  If I could just get her to switch around the combination.  Maybe only ten years.  Five.  Fifteen.  Four.  Nine.  Help me.  Got to help myself now.

“Good morning, Melba.  What?  You can’t understand me?”  Please at least look like you can’t understand me.  Look like you know I’m alive.  I could move my arms, my hands.  I don’t know if I trust her.  She may just do as she is told.  Maybe that is what I don’t trust.  If I moved my arms, my hands, she may tell someone.  Then everyone would know that I am able to move my arms, my hands.  That would be it.  If she could just help me.  Really help me.  If I motioned to other drawers, if I could trade around the drugs, and tell her what I need.

Some mornings I get up, look in the mirror, shave, put on clothes, and begin a normal day.  Get to the office.  “Good morning, Jean.  Yes, great weekend.  Went to the park.  Had a picnic with Camille.  Next weekend or the week after.  I’m not in a hurry, Jean.  Jean order me an egg salad sandwich for lunch with a coke.  No, add on chips.  Order something for yourself.  Thanks.  Thanks, Jean.”

Melba’s back.  Yes, if you lean that close to my face you may fall on top of me.  Now that really might do me in.  Really might finish everything.  No, Melba, not those sheets.  Please put on the blue ones.  Worst thing about not being able to talk or move is bad pajamas and bad sheets.  Only décor a person in my situation cares about.

Melba moves my left arm over to the right and my right arm a little to the left.  Before she arrives, I try to put my arms and hands back exactly where she last saw them.  Nevertheless, she always moves them.  I see hope in her eyes that maybe my arms and hands have moved and that is why she is moving them.  Moving them back.  Of course, this defeats my original purpose in putting them back exactly where she last saw them.  The result is me hiding I can move my arms, my hands, and her thinking I may be able to move my arms, my hands, even though she should really think I can’t move my arms, my hands.  Makes one wonder why I just don’t show her I can move my arms, my hands.

Peeing.  Bowel movements.  Considerations the reader has previously not entertained with respect to yours truly.  Reality.  Melba.  Yes, Melba.  Poor Melba.  For as much as I harp, Melba has it tough.  Not a pretty job.  I resent it.  Don’t appreciate it a bit.  I would if she stopped, if all my ladies stopped, helping me.  As long as they assist, I will resent it.  Resent not being able to walk into a bathroom.  To urinate on my own.  No guidance.  No assistance.  I’m capable.  I was capable; before I took my position in the lazy boy.

Melba leads a rather interesting life.  From an observer’s point of view, she is a private person.  If you wait and watch long enough, you learn a whole hell of a lot.  For a long time, I was very bored with her.  She came in and did exactly what she was supposed to do caring for me.  For my house.  Well, my room.  Slowly, she started to change.  It started with an unexpected visit.

Late winter.  A man stopped by and came into the house.  I could hear them talking, even though they lowered their voices.  Melba was glowing.  Her face was alive for the rest of the afternoon.  For a while, I thought he was her lover.  She started fixing herself up before leaving the house.  A little more blush.  Fresh lipstick.  Turns out, it’s her son.  She must have been young when she had him.  From the looks of things, he went away for a long time.  Melba welcomed him back into her life.

Siena visits weekends and days Melba can’t make it.  Siena picked up her trade for me.  Well, learned a new one.  We were an item around the office.  Siena has stuck by me.  I keep having glimpses of Siena and me after the scandal; right before the accident.  Such a normal day.  It bugs me how Siena acted that day.  Certain things seem off.  So I question her motives in helping me.  My arms and hands stay in place when Siena visits.  They go to the same place Siena last saw them.  She doesn’t look for my arms, my hands, to move.  Not like Melba.  Melba has hope while Siena wrote me off.  Siena put up a tombstone for me a long time ago.

The most beautiful thing in a person is passion.  Passion for living and the desire to see the same in another person.  Melba’s life came back to her when her son came home.  Her whole demeanor changed.  She started fixing her hair more, put on make up, put away her mismatched separates from the eighties.  Life started again.

For many years, I was content going to work, plays, movies, life, in my head.  It eliminated hassles sometimes associated with the activities that structure our lives.  No parking delays.  No real arguments.  Funny banter everywhere.  I can be so different and unjudged.  Glorious.  Perfect.  As time goes on, so does my paralysis and the activities I endure in my head become repetitious and unfulfilling.  The people I imagine are boring.  I don’t seem to be able to recreate the imperfections that make people so life like, so perfect, in my head.  When I meet them now at the office or opera, they seem so cardboard.  I have grown tired of these exercises.

Melba was annoyed yesterday.  She came in cleaning at a tremendous speed and barely looked me over.  She glanced at my face, my body, the tubes, and left.  She forgot my liquid food.  I was pretty sure Melba would come back.  She wouldn’t forget.  She did forget.  She came early the next day and came right over to me in a panic.  For the first time, I think Melba wanted to shake me and throw me and kick me until I moved.  Melba wanted me alive.  She went to the phone and left a message for her son.  I could hear him on the other end of the speaker phone.  Melba never cared that I listen in.  Her son was surprisingly harsh.  Melba was hurt.  Her face dropped.  She hung up the phone.  Melba put on her coat and began to leave.  She turned back to move some wires.  Melba took both my arms and adjusted them.  I moved the right arm back.  She looked at it.  I moved my hand to her arm and she burst into tears.  I tried to motion quiet, but my arm didn’t bend well.  It was a risk that paid off.

Melba went to the bottom drawer where I kept my extra concoctions.  She began administering mixes by reading my notes.  Melba didn’t share the progress report with Siena.  Instead, she came weekends now after Siena had been there.  Melba readjusted my food and my meds and began working with weights on my other muscles.  I should have moved my arms, my hands, earlier.  Melba believed in me.  That is all it takes, one person believing in you.

With this burst of excitement, I began to rearrange my mental excursions.  I started trying to solve the scandal and the accident.  Soon I would be strong enough.

Siena left.  My ex-wife returned.  My other ex-wife returned.  Melba stayed.  Melba ignored both ex-wives.  I liked Melba more and more.

What if my paralysis didn’t exist?  If I just believed what doctors, specialists, friends, co-workers, ex-wives, and Siena told me.  If I talked myself into an existence that was fabricated.  Maybe I wasn’t a scientist, a husband, or a victim.  A person trapped in a non-life whose body had responded likewise.  I created the scandal.  I created the accident.  I was proactive in my own demise.

Time for coffee.  Get it ready for Melba.  Need to go to machine.  Everyday when I get up, I want to make coffee out of habit.  I don’t need coffee or particularly like coffee.  The smell of coffee is reassuring.  One knows millions of people are drinking it every morning.  The smell becomes a link between human beings in an age of disconnection, a coffee fraternity of sorts.

My daughter comes and goes.  She is an only child.  Twenty-six years old.  For the most part, she stays where I’m not.  She married last year.  I should know more about her, but I don’t.  My excursions in my head distracted me from giving her the attention she needed over the years.

“There were seventy-six crates of specimen samples brought into Unit Six.  Unit Seven was empty.  Unit Seven is for the post-experimental debris crates.  Unit Eight is filled with other pre-experimental crates.  My pre-experimental crates are in Unit Five.  I’m not sure when Unit Six was filled.  I will go down there.  We are very close.  Maybe even later today.  Yes, I think so too.  I’m feeling fine.  Camille is fine.  Siena, grab my clip board.  Thank you.  I’ll be in the lab.  No, we will work until we are done now.  Dr. Crouton will not be participating.  He is at a dead end.  He didn’t say so?  I’m sure he has concluded the current line of experiments.  He will have to go back and see if he can salvage anything and then start again.  Yes, we have discussed sharing our results.  If Unit Seven results are not satisfactory, we may be able to find a solution together.  I am tired.  I know you are tired too and so are the investors.  Feeling fine.  Really.  No problem with experiment, with me, with my exposure.  No problem.”

I’m looking at the ceiling.  Right now I would like to be held.  Basic need.  Nothing more; nothing less.  I do not want yesterday; I want today and tomorrow.  I wonder if I could feel someone holding me; me holding someone.  Would my arms and legs turn to marshmallows?  Would the blood come rushing back into me and allow me to spring up, alive again?  What would it be like to hold someone like me?  Unresponsive, flabby, skin and bones.  Would I be warm?  Cold?  Neutral?  Would it cure me?  Maybe it would talk me out of the paralysis.

Cocoa, my pet Chocolate Labrador Retriever, brought me the paper this morning.  She is very loyal and only barks when other dogs are close to the house.  She never wets the floor; always waits for Melba.  I might go walk her in a few minutes.

Outside two men dig a hole for a tree.  One man looks happy.  He looks inside with hands that are cold and chapped.  More men come with a dozer to help the two men.  Inside all you hear is yakkity yak, yakkity yak.  Mumbled conversation continues about meanings.  Not living.  Meanings.  Examination.  Constant examination.  Meanwhile, the man with the cold chapped hands smiles at another and continues with the dirt and the trees.  No yakkity yak.  No examination.  Just a smile, chapped hands, and living.

Here I am back in my lazy boy.  I’ve never been married.  Most days I don’t think I have a daughter.  Siena and I have never had an affair.  My only paralysis exists in my head.  I have a room in a day hotel along the Hudson.  I am not a scientist.  I still have no pets.  I have no Melba.  Tomorrow has come today.

Pigeons line up on the roof outside my window.  Each looks in at me in turn demanding recognition of its existence.  About ready to walk Cocoa, I take off my hat and give the pigeons a simple bow.  I’ll be back, my friends!  Say good night, Cocoa!  I head down the stairs dragging a leash belonging to another.  “Have a fine evening, Camille,” I say to the desk clerk.  In return, I get a grimace and past due bills.  I deposit the bills in a reciprocal outside looking to be filled.  How Cocoa loves the park.


Wylie Strout

Banner Image:By [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

7 thoughts on “Chapter One: Sid by Wylie Strout”

  1. I’m happy that you have given me a glimpse into this continuously through-the-rabbit-hole mind in which everything seems up for grabs, yet does nothing at all. It makes today worth the while; even though I have baked my turkey to a temperature that rivals the surface of the sun.


  2. ” One knows millions of people are drinking it every morning. The smell becomes a link between human beings in an age of disconnection, a coffee fraternity of sorts.”

    Yes! Of course that happens. It just took you to think of it with your big empathetic brain and write it so simply and purely in this lovely, sympathetic story.

    I am going to hug my wife and then have another cup of coffee with the rest of the human race.



  3. Hi Wylie,
    This was a pleasure to read. I think the word surreal has never been so appropriate!
    Enjoyable, sad and leaving us all with a bit of inner dread.


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